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August 9, 2017

By Ariadne Weinberg, Featured Columnist

I am not a mother with an extra placenta lying around, but
one of my best friends was.

I never thought this would lead to me consuming part of
her body, but life is full of surprises.

After her birth, my friend cut up parts of her placenta and
iced them. Periodically, she would blend them into
smoothies to drink.

So when she asked, “Do you want a placenta smoothie?” I
said, “Sure, why not?”

I see many of you in the audience out there going,
“Ewwww, gross.” But blended into a smoothie and iced,
you can’t really taste a placenta.

And I’m not sure if the placebo effect was in full force, but
I felt pretty chill afterwards. This could have been due to
the good smoothie ingredients or live music in the
background or the placenta hormones. Or all of the above.
The science jury is still out on that one.

My friend is one of many on the trend boat of
placentophagy, the practice of eating one’s own placenta

Celebrities such as Madmen actress January Jones, Kim
Kardashian, and Alicia Silverstone are swearing by the

However, consuming one’s own placenta is still shrouded in
controversy and lacks the necessary research to 100%
confirm the benefits or dangers claimed.  

In Nature Lots of Animals Eat Their Placenta

According to Daniel Benyshek, professor of anthropology,
at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, there are more than
5000 species of animals and the majority eat their

Humans are only recently back on that list, after having
rejected the idea for a good while. Camels, llamas, and
marine mammals have also shown no propensity for
placentophagy. (But, really, who trusts a llama?)

There is a  hypothesis is that the purpose of eating a
placenta is to remove all traces of the evidence of birth,
leaving the baby and and mother less vulnerable to
predators. Additionally, the organ is purported to have
some great nutrients.

However, others claim there is a good reason that human
moms stopped eating their placentas.

Read on to find out some of the pros and cons of

Placentas Are Great at Absorbing Toxins  
Regarding the aforementioned theory that all animals
(especially mammals) probably should eat their placentas,
there is a hypothesis that humans may have grown out of
it, given their evolutionary adaptiveness. In a 2017 report,
S.A. Shuette and researchers at the Northwestern
University Feinberg School of Medicine discuss the “fire

Humans may have stopped eating their placentas because
women of the past were routinely exposed to smoke and
ash. The harmful substances could filter through and pass
on toxins to the baby. Unfortunately, placentas have been
shown to absorb toxins quite well.

Watch Out --The Placenta May Be contaminated with
Mercury, Cadmium, and Lead

In 2012, Maria D. Esteban Vasallo, sub directorate for
Health Promotion and Prevention for the Madrid National
Health Authority, published a report about toxins in the
placenta. The information specifically focused on if
mercury, cadmium, and lead could later be associated in
problems with child development. Vasallo and researchers
searched various databases between 1976 and 2011 in
both Spanish and English. 79 papers and 46 studies were
included. Cadmium levels were reported to be high in the U.
S., lead in China and Poland, and mercury in China. While
international testing standards still need to be established,
eating your placenta may be a risk you don’t want to take if
you’re not in a totally pure environment.

The Placenta May Help to Regulate Your Hormones

Got the post-partum blues? Eating placenta may keep your
hormones more stable.

Right after birth, sometimes estrogen and other regulating
hormones drop off, causing a bit of blues. DC-based
midwife Claudia Booker claims that taking placenta pills
temporarily signals the body to not create a huge estrogen

She clarifies that placenta pills are not meant to be a cure-
all to treat real postpartum depression; they are simply a

Placenta also contains some oxytocin, cortisone,
progesterone, and prolactin, all happy chemicals to have
floating around in the system.

The Placenta Improves Breast Milk Production

We mentioned prolactin as one of those positive hormone
regulators. This substance is responsible for the ability to
produce breast milk. In a 2006 study, Eva Soykora-
Pachneova and researchers from the Charles University in
Prague studied the placenta’s effect on improved breast
milk production.

Out of 210 women, 71 had very good results, 110 good
results, and 29 bad results. Very good results were defined
as an increase in breast size and milk production.
Sometimes what we eat is quite subjective.

Try a bit of sterile placenta, iced or in pill format, and see if
your milk production improves.

Placenta May Contain Negative Bacteria and Disease

Even when you take placenta in the most sterile form, you
are taking a calculated risk, though. In one recent case
report from 2017 by Genevieve L. Buser at the Center for
Disease Control, an Oregon baby was admitted for
respiratory disease. The problem was linked back to the
mother, who had been taking placenta pills contaminated
with a streptococcus infection.

Placenta Boosts Your Immune System and Your Baby’s

There's also a chance placenta could give you and your
baby a boost.

Here's how it works. B-Cell activating factor (BAFF) is an
important immune regulator. In 2015, J. Bienertova-Vasku
and researchers from the Masaryk University confirmed
that B-Cell activating factor was present in the placenta as
well as in breast milk during the 6-month postpartum

Breastfeeding will do trick for regulating the immune
system, but placenta may just add another protective layer.

Placenta May Help Regulate Your Iron Levels

Now, don’t get me wrong. You’re not gonna get a spinach
smack of elevated iron levels from this thing. However,
when your iron levels are a little depleted postpartum, a
placenta may just lift them up to where they used to be.

In 2017, L.K. Gryder from Midwifery Women’s Health
Magazine looked at how placentas or beef improved iron
status. They conducted a randomized, double-blind placebo
controlled pilot study with 23 women. Compared to a beef
placebo, they found that the placenta neither impairs nor
improves iron status.

In other words, the organ gives complete stability. This
may be a good resource for people who are iron deficient
postpartum, especially if they are vegan or don’t have
access to meat.

Placenta May Carry Blood-borne Diseases

Since placentas are full of blood, there is a possibility that
they could contain bloodborne diseases.

According to Robin Elise Weiss, doula from the University
of Louisville, some of those diseases could include AIDS
and HIV, amongst others. That’s why the process of how
you store and eat your placenta is quite important. In any
case, you’ll still be taking a risk.

Placenta May Have an Analgesic Effect

In 2015, Cynthia W. Coyle from the Northwestern
University Feinberg school of Medicine looked through
many studies, mostly conducted on animals, that examined
the analgesic effects of placenta.

Many indicated that the organ did indeed contain placental
opioid enhancing factor. Notably, in one study, they
discovered that the afterbirth material had to be frozen at
20 degrees celsius for an effect to occur.

Perhaps my friend’s quite frozen placenta was giving me a
low-level opioid dose. Still, further studies on humans need
to be conducted before we can say that conclusively.

Placentas Are Nutritious

While they might not be delicious, they do seem to have a
high nutrient content. In 2000, W. Phuapradit and
researchers from the Mahidol University analyzed 30 heat-
dried placentas: 15 female, 15 male. Mineral levels in
placentas were high, especially in sodium, potassium and
phosphorus, They were also fairly protein-rich.  

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